Preparing Plants For Cooler Weather

Many of us mistakenly think that after Labor Day we can forget about our gardens until next spring. Now that autumn has arrived, plants will begin to direct their energy inward, toward their crown and root growth.  Our work as gardeners shifts to preparing them for cooler weather, assessing what grew well, what didn’t and why and planning for next spring.

Fall is the most significant time of growth for perennials. It’s also the ideal time to move perennials to a new site if you think they need more sun or a more or less prominent position in the garden.

So start to edit, trim and add. Rid your garden of the plants you don’t really love. Fill in holes with new plants, move plants around, try new bulbs, address rodent control and make notes detailing which annuals looked good and where you might want to place them next spring.

Even though many hydrangeas did not bloom last spring due to a late March/early April frost, most suffered from August heat. So making sure they get enough water is important.  For hydrangeas that bloomed, use shallow cuts to remove any flowers that have gone to the brown stage. While each hydrangea is different, generally the less you cut, the better.

It’s probably best to take down the garden, that is, cut all of the herbaceous perennials before planting your bulbs in October and November. Clear any diseased or dead foliage from the perennials and remove flower heads before they go to seed.  

When cutting down stalks and stems, leave 1-2 inches showing above ground so you don’t disturb them while digging for your fall bulbs. 

Remove all dead leaves from flowerbeds and discard them. Only use tree leaves for mulch and compost.  

Perennials should be divided every 3-5 years. Lift them out with a garden fork, not a shovel and avoid damaging the rhizomes, tubers and roots. Place a tarp on the ground and divide your plants on the tarp.  You need 3-5 eyes per division (a division is the beige knob or stem on a tuber). If plants are yellow, you will need to add chelated iron, which looks like dry mustard.  

Don’t forget to prune. Fall pruning means cutting down any dead branches or limbs. This applies to roses as well as trees and woody plants.

Use caution when watering and feeding. Underfeeding is better than overfeeding. Underwatering is better than overwatering.

Have mulch ready but apply it only after bulbs have been planted.

If you still haven’t ordered your spring bulbs, there’s still time. Ideal planting time for our region is October or November. 


Gerard Pampalone

I am not a professional garden designer, landscape architect or horticulturalist. I am, for the most part, self-taught.

I don’t garden for a living, I live for gardening.

I came to gardening late in life, so I am making up for lost time.

I hope to share my insights, resources, and gardening experiences. My aim is to educate, enlighten and inspire gardeners to take chances, break new ground, dig deeper and stretch themselves.

As seen in:

Westport Magazine, July 2007
athome Magazine, March/April 2008

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *